"Why Islam Is Not Violent" Yet Again
Jonathan Power confuses “Islam” and Muslims, and wants you to do it too.
“Yet most Muslims do not commit acts of violence. If Islam is intrinsically violent then roughly a billion believers either do not understand their own religion, or are too cowardly or unfaithful to follow its precepts. That is my sarcasm but, indeed, this is what violent Islamists say.” — From this article
As is his wont, Jonathan Power deliberately confuses “Islam” and Muslims, and wants you to do it, too. Because not all Muslims have committed acts of violence, he wants us to conclude that the faith of Islam cannot possibly be intrinsically violent. Now, not every Nazi Party member found himself involved in the Endlosung, the “Final Solution” of the death camps. So what? The murderous antisemitism of the Nazi Party did not infect only those who took a direct part in the roundup and murder of Jews and others. You could be an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler’s genocidal program and not leave your study.
Not everyone has either the opportunity or the need to act on all of his beliefs. Power seems to think that because “a billion” Muslims don’t all take direct part in ISIS’s bloodletting, that must mean, in his jejune sarcasm, either that “then roughly a billion believers either do not understand their own religion” or they are “too cowardly or unfaithful [sic] to follow its precepts.” It could also mean that those billion Muslims lacked either the need or the opportunity to act on those Islamic teachings on how to treat infidels. No need, if they were already living among fellow Muslims. No opportunity, if they lived among Infidels who were still strong enough to discourage Muslim attack. And Islam spells out clearly, in its numerous passages concerning when violent jihad is necessary, other rules of the game: if the violent jihad in question is deemed fard kifayah, a collective duty, rather than fard ayn, an individual duty, any individual Muslim may be relieved of the duty of participating if “the community” is engaged in jihad.
Westerners have a tendency to create myths about the teachings of Mohammed (pbuh) in the Koran. An outrageous one is the claim that an adulterous woman should be stoned. But the only teaching in any of the world’s major religions advocating stoning can be found in the Jewish Old Testament. (Paradoxically, the Jews have not practised this for millennia but Saudi Arabia does today.)
Jonathan Power accuses “Westerners” of “a tendency to create myths about the teachings of Mohammed (pbuh)” in the Koran. As is his practice, he offers by way of a “tendency” exactly one example – the “outrageous claim” that Mohammad advocated stoning an adulterous woman. But Mohammad did make that “outrageous claim” and more than once – only he did so not in the Qur’an, but in the Hadith of both Bukhari and Muslim. That’s why Power carefully planted those three little words “_in the Koran_” in his first sentence; if caught out, he could then indignantly splutter “but I only said Westerners have a tendency to create myths about the teachings of Mohammad in the Koran.”
For Jonathan Power, it’s no fairsies, bringing up Bukhari and Muslim and very possibly the Sira. He’s at that level, and expects you to be at that level, too.
For those who refuse to play ball, and welcome the relevant cites in Bukhari and Muslim, here are the Hadiths setting out lapidation as the punishment for adultery: Bukhari 6:60:79; 6:83:37; Muslim 17:4192, 17:4196, 17:4206; 17:4209. And aside from these Hadiths, one finds in the Sira of Ibn Ishaq Mohammed in his “Farewell Address” unambiguously insisting – so important did he deem it – that “The adulterer must be stoned.”
In 630 AD Mohammed (pbuh) himself led his troops to conquer Mecca. By the time of his death two years later most of the Arabs of the western part of Arabia were Muslims by conquest. Within 20 years of Mohammed’s death Muslims had conquered large parts of the Roman Empire and had absorbed the almighty Persian. Within 100 years his followers had established an empire greater than Rome at its zenith. By the 13th and 14th centuries Islam had spread as far east as India, Indonesia and parts of China. In Africa it was introduced on the back of the slave trade.
Yet this astonishing record of far-flung conquest out of Arabia and all the way to western China was somehow achieved by people whose complete guide to living, Jonathan Power keeps telling us, nowhere counsels, and everywhere opposes, “acts of violence.” If those nonviolent Muslim armies were able to establish “an empire greater than Rome at its zenith,” just imagine what they might have accomplished had they decided to be violent. Note, too, the second appearance of that pious “pbuh” that follows the mention of Mohammed, and which suggests a deep solicitousness for Muslim sensibilities. Also worth noting is that last sentence, where how suavely the ruthless Arab trade in black African slaves – almost all of them young boys castrated while still in the bush — has been weirdly upended, so that it has now become the slave “on whose back” Islam arrived in Africa. And note the repeated use of the passive — “Islam had spread,” “in Africa it [Islam] was introduced” — that minimizes human agency, and those who wielded those Muslim swords that were used to “spread” and “introduce” Islam.
In total contrast Christians submitted themselves to lions rather than fight and not until the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity some 300 years after Jesus’ death did Christianity take on the role of running a state with all its well-embedded military traditions.
Power has a way of insinuating that the Muslims, in fashioning their empire through warfare (though Islam itself, remember, “is not violent”), stood in admirable relief to the Christians who “in total contrast [to the Muslims] submitted themselves to lions rather than fight.” There is a scarcely-concealed note of scorn — why couldn’t those wimpy Christians have done what the Muslims did, in “running a state” right off? And note Power’s illogic here: the Christians “submitted themselves to lions rather than fight” and in so doing were “in total contrast” to the Muslims, which should mean that the Muslims were the opposite of pacific, were inured to, and ready to give and receive blows. In other words, Islam was, and is, violent. And that is exactly the opposite of the point Jonathan Power thinks he is making.
It came as a great surprise to me and to others that in the months after 9⁄11 that President George W Bush said that Islam was a peaceful religion. Moreover, the religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, writes in her book The Battle For God: “The Koran condemns all warfare as abhorrent and permits only a war of self-defence. The Koran is adamantly opposed to the use of force on religious matters.”
Many detractors of Islam would argue that Bush and her [sic] are wrong. Can the Muslim armies that swept across the Middle East and into Asia only have been practicing self-defence? It is true, as she says, that the Koran is mainly an advocate of non-violence. In nearly every passage it maintains that violence should only be used in self-defence.
Power adduces two authorities for his “Islam is not violent” thesis. The first is that learned scholar of Islam George Bush, who in the months after 9⁄11 casually tossed off his ill-considered judgment that Islam “is a peaceful religion.” This curious remark was presumably prompted by Bush’s desire, while already attacking Afghanistan and very likely starting to plan the invasion of Iraq, to reassure potential Muslim allies. And there’s another reason: he who had been so successfully Born Again may have been swayed by a sentimental syllogism: “All religions are peaceful. Islam is a religion. Islam is peaceful.”
Power’s second great authority on Islam is not one of the deeply learned Western scholars of Islam, from C. Snouck Hurgronje on up to Bernard Lewis, but an ex-nun who has taken quite a shine to Islam pari passu with her palpable disenchantment with Christianity, a disenchantment expressed in several books, including A History of God. You can find out more about this bizarre creature Karen Armstrong, should you wish, by reading “Karen Armstrong: The Coherence of Her Incoherence.”
However, there is one, rarely quoted, important exception [in verse 9.29 the Koran says, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor in the Last Day, nor hold that for which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor abide by the religion of truth even if they are People of the Book (the Bible).”
To that extent one can understand why ISIS and Al Qaeda say they have scripture on their side. Of course, this does not excuse their particular brand of savagery and brutality and their refusal to follow Mohammed’s demand that the defeated be treated well.
Overwhelmingly, Muslims are a peaceful people, less prone to war than Christians and Jews. But for some violence is in their inheritance.
If Jonathan Power believes that verse 9.29 is a “rarely quoted” exception to the general rule that “in nearly every passage [IN THE QUR’AN] it maintains that violence should only be used in self-defence,” then perhaps his re-reading of the text may be in order. He could read the Qur’anic quotations below, which I have simply lifted from the website The Religion of Peace:
Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah[disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing…
_but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah_ [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone.
Quran (2:216) – “Fighting is prescribed for you_, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.”_ Not only does this verse establish that violence can be virtuous, but it also contradicts the myth that fighting is intended only in self-defense, since the audience was obviously not under attack at the time. From the Hadith, we know that this verse was narrated at a time that Muhammad was actually trying to motivate his people into raiding merchant caravans for loot.
Quran (3:151) – _“Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”. _This speaks directly of polytheists, yet it also includes Christians, since they believe in the Trinity (ie. what Muhammad incorrectly believed to be ‘joining companions to Allah’).
Quran (4:74) – _“Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.”_ The martyrs of Islam are unlike the early Christians, who were led meekly to the slaughter. These Muslims are killed in battle as they attempt to inflict death and destruction for the cause of Allah. This is the theological basis for today’s suicide bombers.
Quran (4:76) – “Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah…”
Quran (4:89) – “They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them…
Quran (4:104) – _“And be not weak hearted in pursuit of the enemy; if you suffer pain, then surely they (too) suffer pain as you suffer pain…”_ Is pursuing an injured and retreating enemy really an act of self-defense?
Quran (5:33) – “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement”
Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them_” _No reasonable person would interpret this to mean a spiritual struggle.
Quran (8:15) – “O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. (16)Whoso on that day turneth his back to them, unless maneuvering for battle or intent to join a company, he truly hath incurred wrath from Allah, and his habitation will be hell, a hapless journey’s end.”
Quran (8:39) – “And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief)_ and religion is all for Allah” _Some translations interpret “fitna” as “persecution”, but the traditional understanding of this word is not supported by the historical context (See notes for 2:193). The Meccans were simply refusing Muhammad access to their city during Haj. Other Muslims were allowed to travel there – just not as an armed group, since Muhammad had declared war on Mecca prior to his eviction. The Meccans were also acting in defense of their religion, since it was Muhammad’s intention to destroy their idols and establish Islam by force (which he later did). Hence the critical part of this verse is to fight until “religion is only for Allah”, meaning that the true justification of violence was the unbelief of the opposition. According to the Sira (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 324) Muhammad further explains that “Allah must have no rivals.”
Quran (8:57) – “If thou comest on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that haply they may remember.”
Quran (8:67) – _“It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war until he had made a great slaughter in the land…_”
Quran (8:59-60) – “And let not those who disbelieve suppose that they can outstrip (Allah’s Purpose). Lo! they cannot escape. Make ready for them all thou canst of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby ye may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy.”
Quran (8:65) – “O Prophet, exhort the believers to fight…”
Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush_, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.”_According to this verse, the best way of staying safe from Muslim violence is to convert to Islam (prayer (salat) and the poor tax (zakat) are among the religion’s Five Pillars). This popular claim that the Quran only inspires violence within the context of self-defense is seriously challenged by this passage as well, since the Muslims to whom it was written were obviously not under attack. Had they been, then there would have been no waiting period (earlier verses make it a duty for Muslims to fight in self-defense, even during the sacred months). The historical context is Mecca _after_ the idolaters were subjugated by Muhammad and posed no threat. Once the Muslims had power, they violently evicted those unbelievers who would not convert.
Quran (9:14) – “Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them _and heal the breasts of a believing people.”_ Humiliating and hurting non-believers not only has the blessing of Allah, but it is ordered as a means of carrying out his punishment and even “healing” the hearts of Muslims.
Quran (9:20) – “Those who believe, and have left their homes and striven with their wealth and their lives in Allah’s way are of much greater worth in Allah’s sight_. These are they who are triumphant.” _The Arabic word interpreted as “striving” in this verse is the same root as “Jihad”. The context is obviously holy war.
Quran (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued_.” _“People of the Book” refers to Christians and Jews. According to this verse, they are to be violently subjugated, with the sole justification being their religious status. Verse 9:33 tells Muslims that Allah has charted them to make Islam “superior over all religions.”This chapter was one of the final “revelations” from Allah and it set in motion the tenacious military expansion, in which Muhammad’s companions managed to conquer two-thirds of the Christian world in the next 100 years. Islam is intended to dominate all other people and faiths.
Quran (9:38-39) – _“O ye who believe! what is the matter with you, that, when ye are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, ye cling heavily to the earth? Do ye prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter. Unless ye go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty, and put others in your place.” _This is a warning to those who refuse to fight, that they will be punished with Hell.
Quran (9:41) – _“Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah! That is best for you if ye but knew.” See also the verse that follows (9:42) – “If there had been immediate gain (in sight), and the journey easy, they would (all) without doubt have followed thee, but the distance was long, (and weighed) on them”_ This contradicts the myth that Muslims are to fight only in self-defense, since the wording implies that battle will be waged a long distance from home (in another country and on Christian soil, in this case, according to the historians).
Quran (9:73) – “O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; _and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.”_Dehumanizing those who reject Islam, by reminding Muslims that unbelievers are merely firewood for Hell, makes it easier to justify slaughter. It also explains why today’s devout Muslims have little regard for those outside the faith.
Quran (9:88) – “But the Messenger, and those who believe with him, strive and fight with their wealth and their persons: for them are (all) good things: and it is they who will prosper.”
Quran (9:111) – _“Allah hath purchased of the _believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain_: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Quran: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.”_ Quran (9:123) – “O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness.”
Quran (17:16) – _“And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction.” _Note that the crime is moral transgression, and the punishment is “utter destruction.” (Before ordering the 9⁄11 attacks, Osama bin Laden first issued Americans an invitation to Islam).
Quran (25:52) – _“Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness…”_ “Strive against” is Jihad – obviously not in the personal context. It’s also significant to point out that this is a Meccan verse.
Quran (33:60-62) – _“If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and the alarmists in the city do not cease, We verily shall urge thee on against them, then they will be your neighbors in it but a little while. Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter.“_ This passage sanctions the slaughter (rendered “merciless” and “horrible murder” in other translations) against three groups: Hypocrites (Muslims who refuse to “fight in the way of Allah” (3:167) and hence don’t act as Muslims should), those with “diseased hearts” (which include Jews and Christians 5:51-52), and “alarmists” or “agitators who include those who merely speak out against Islam, according to Muhammad’s biographers. It is worth noting that the victims are to be sought out by Muslims, which is what today’s terrorists do. If this passage is meant merely to apply to the city of Medina, then it is unclear why it is included in Allah’s eternal word to Muslim generations.
Quran (47:3-4) – _“Those who disbelieve follow falsehood, while those who believe follow the truth from their Lord… So, when you meet (in fight Jihad in Allah’s Cause), those who disbelieve smite at their necks till when you have killed and wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly (on them, i.e. take them as captives)… If it had been Allah’s Will, He Himself could certainly have punished them (without you). But (He lets you fight), in order to test you, some with others. But those who are killed in the Way of Allah, He will never let their deeds be lost.” _Those who reject Allah are to be killed in Jihad. The wounded are to be held captive for ransom. The only reason Allah doesn’t do the dirty work himself is to to test the faithfulness of Muslims. Those who kill pass the test.
Quran (47:35) – “Be not weary and faint-hearted, crying for peace, when ye should be uppermost(Shakir: “have the upper hand”) for Allah is with you,”
Quran (48:17) – _“There is no blame for the blind, nor is there blame for the lame, nor is there blame for the sick (that they go not forth to war). And whoso obeyeth Allah and His messenger, He will make him enter Gardens underneath which rivers flow; and whoso turneth back, him will He punish with a painful doom.” _Contemporary apologists sometimes claim that Jihad means ‘spiritual struggle.’ Is so, then why are the blind, lame and sick exempted? This verse also says that those who do not fight will suffer torment in hell.
Quran (48:29) – _“Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard (ruthless) against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves” _Islam is not about treating everyone equally. This verse tells Muslims that there are two very distinct standards that are applied based on religious status. Also the word used for ‘hard’ or ‘ruthless’ in this verse shares the same root as the word translated as ‘painful’ or severe’ to describe Hell in over 25 other verses including 65:10, 40:46 and 50:26..
Quran (61:4) – “Surely Allah loves those who fight in His cause” Religion of Peace, indeed! The verse explicitly refers to “rows” or “battle array,” meaning that it is speaking of physical conflict. This is followed by (61:9), which defines the “cause”: “He it is who has sent His Messenger (Mohammed) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam) to make it victorious over all religions even though the infidels may resist.” (See next verse, below). Infidels who resist Islamic rule are to be fought.
Quran (61:10-12) – _“O You who believe! Shall I guide you to a commerce that will save you from a painful torment. That you believe in Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), and that you strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives, that will be better for you, if you but know! (If you do so) He will forgive you your sins, and admit you into Gardens under which rivers flow, and pleasant dwelling in Gardens of’Adn- Eternity [‘Adn(Edn) Paradise], that is indeed the great success.”_ This verse refers to physical battle in order to make Islam victorious over other religions (see verse 9). It uses the Arabic root for the word Jihad.
Quran (66:9) – “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey’s end.”
If Jonathan Power, who for many years has made Islam the frequent subject of his pontification, were to take a little time out to re-acquaint himself with the Qur’an, or at least with the passages I’ve just presented above, I suspect that even he would come to view Karen Armstrong’s insistence that “the Koran condemns all warfare as abhorrent and permits only a war of self-defence” as an offense against both logic and history. I know, too, that for Jonathan Power, that’s asking a lot.